Monday, March 12, 2001

Week of 03/12/2001

Questions Still Not Answered
- by David Matthews 2

"Deeds of violence in our society are performed largely by those trying to establish their self-esteem, to defend their self-image, and to demonstrate that they, too, are significant." - Rollo May

Once again, the eyes of America are forced to turn towards yet another school tragedy. This time, two students were killed, and thirteen were injured. And once again, after this tragedy, there were others who thought about doing the same thing, or, in the case of a girl in Pennsylvania, actually went out and shot another student.

And once again there were the same questions asked.. Why? Why now? Why here? Why these people? Why did they do it? Why are these students snapping like twigs?

And then there is the most important question asked: Why didn’t we see this coming?

Let’s get brutally honest here, people… ever since the Columbine massacre almost two years ago, school systems across America have suffered the classic case of militant overcorrecting. We’ve investigated every aspect of a youngster’s life; the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, the games they play, the programs they watch.. we looked, we scrutinized, and then we censored. We banned certain colors of clothing, and certain kinds of clothing. We persecuted gothic students, or students whose religions weren’t considered mainstream. We targeted violent music and violent video games, and some cities even passed laws to ban them. We’ve even persecuted kids for pointing fingers and pieces of chicken tenders and drawing pictures of guns!

And we’ve over-moralized. The bible-thumpers once again tried to force kids to pray in schools, blaming the rash of violence on their delusional belief that God somehow was being barred from the classroom. They seem to forget that God can go anywhere God wants to go.. God doesn’t need a public prayer to be invited anywhere. The super-patriotic thought that forcing students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance would somehow make them be better citizens. And the simply overbearing felt that if we put in brand new "codes of conduct", or a layman’s version of the Ten Commandments, that students will miraculously become better students.

Guess what folks? It still didn’t stop the killing.

After all of that. After every incident of expelling kids for being Wiccan, or playing "Cops & Robbers" or having a three-inch key ring chain or drawing a picture of a gun, there were still students getting real guns and going on real shooting sprees.

Yes, some incidents of violence were prevented, but how many of those could be directly attributed to spotting how a person dressed, or what kind of music they heard, or how they handled fried pieces of poultry? No, the incidents that were stopped didn’t come from how a person prayed, or whether or not they liked listening to Marilyn Manson or Emenem.

Do you really want to know how those incidents were stopped, but not the ones in San Diego and Pennsylvania? Simple. People opened their eyes and they paid attention to the world around them instead of trying to second-guess it.

Instead of trying to punish every gothic student for wearing black just because the Columbine punks wore black, parents, teachers, and friends paid attention to the troubled students that were just a little too moody. The students who were being teased too much, or being harassed too long. The ones who really couldn’t take the modest joke at their expense. The ones who thought that "going postal" would be the only way to get some attention, or to right a perceived wrong. They approached those troubled students, talked to them, and if they believed violence was immanent, they went to the authorities for action.

Parents, peers, and teachers didn’t need any new laws, or any ceremonies, or publicity rallies, or federal inquiries to do these things. No, they just needed to open their eyes, ears, mouths, and minds and reach out to those troubled youths.

Could the situation in San Diego have been prevented? Perhaps. Signs of trouble were there. The boy’s friends and teachers heard the warnings, and some of them discounted the warnings as being trivial. The boy wasn’t what they considered to be a trademark shooter, if such a term could ever exist. Even the so-called "experts" don’t have a clue there. The boy wasn’t taken seriously, they thought he was just kidding. They found out the hard way that he wasn’t.

Credit has to be given, though, in how the folks at Santana High School handled the shooting afterwards. It was a traumatic act, but they didn’t want it blown out of proportion like it was in Columbine. The school was only shut down for two days. No parts of the building were barred off or demolished, and most of the students were back with only a modest celebration. There were no big presentations, no big parades, no marches to supposedly "take the school back." Some students even were hostile towards the reporters that were there to cover their return to classes. They didn’t want the media to turn the event into a circus like they did with Columbine… even if the reporters were simply "doing their jobs."

Harsh for those journalists, perhaps, but it is a lesson that politicians and special interest groups should also be given.

Unfortunately, those are the people who use these incidents to the extreme. They’re the ones who resurrect such tragedies whenever they want new gun control laws passed. They’re the ones who stir up the feelings of helplessness and loss when they want to try to enact some "bold new experiment" in youth control. They invoke the names of the shooters and especially their victims when they try to censor forms of the media that they do not like. They’re the ones who made such a big deal about tragedies like Columbine, who make such big displays of compassion and concern. And even though they are quick to blame everything and anything under the stars for such tragedies, they refuse to consider - even remotely - the notion that perhaps their overly dramatic displays of concern over the initial tragedy would inspire copycats.

Perhaps the question still not answered is why don’t these people get a clue?

The public is getting tired of empty programs and political theatrics when it comes to these tragedies. They’re tired of hearing about grief councilors and gun control activists and social-control politicians who use these things as the catalysts for their empty crusades. The problem is not that there aren’t enough gun laws, or enough prayers to God, or the wrong shade of clothing, or the wrong kind of music. The problem is that the people who should have seen the warning signs didn’t, and the people who could’ve acted didn’t.

Look, folks, I’ll be the first one to tell you that school life can be hell. There have been plenty of times when I was tempted to find a quick way out of the torment. Fortunately for me, I didn’t turn to violence. I found a way to put the pain aside through theatre and through other programs. It wasn’t easy, but the name of the game is not who wins, but who gets through it all and makes it to adulthood. Believe me, once you get that far, everything that you’ve endured in those four years will all seem trivial.

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